Two Republican lawmakers criticized senior Justice Department officials for a “pass-the-buck” attitude in a report released Monday on the failed Operation Fast and Furious.
The more than 100-page report singles out Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division; Gary Grindler, then-Acting Deputy Attorney General; Jason Weinstein, then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General; Ed Siskel, Associate Deputy Attorney General; and Monty Wilkinson, then-Deputy Chief of Staff for Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Department leadership’s failure to recognize Fast and Furious was a problem until it was too late was the result of a ‘pass-the-buck’ attitude that emanated from the highest echelons of the Department of Justice,” said the report from Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa). ”Senior managers placed blame elsewhere and retained plausible deniability. This environment allowed Fast and Furious to fester for over a year.”
The report added: ”The hands-off management approach taken by these senior managers meant that they expected problems to be reported to them, failing to seek out information themselves.”
The report is the second in a planned series on the alleged failures of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during Operation Fast and Furious. Issa and Grassley have led efforts on Capitol Hill for more than a year and a half to investigate Fast and Furious.
A Justice Department official dismissed the report as “yet another attempt to try to politicize this matter without regard for, and command of, the facts.”
The Justice Department also noted that the department has already put in place a number of reforms since the investigation’s issues came to light, including Holder’s ban on the use of gun-walking tactics in any investigation.
The Capitol Hill duo’s first report found fault with five ATF officials, both at headquarters in Washington, D.C., and in the Phoenix Field Office. The Justice Department called the first report a “distortion” of the facts.
“Countless people may be murdered with these weapons, yet the Attorney General appears to be letting his employees slide by with little to no accountability,” Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, said in a statement. “The Attorney General needs to make changes to ensure that department leadership provides oversight of the agencies they are tasked with supervising, instead of pointing fingers at somebody else.”
Issa and Grassley have been critical of the Attorney General since issues with the gun-walking operation came to light early last year. Issa’s committee, Oversight and Government Reform, led the charge on a contempt of Congress resolution against the Attorney General, which ultimately passed in the full House this summer. It was the first time a sitting Cabinet member has been found in contempt of Congress.
Monday’s report largely mirrors the narrative that has emerged in recent months. The Justice Department’s Inspector General report found fault with 14 department officials, including Breuer, Grindler, Wilkinson and Weinstein.
Grassley called for Breuer to resign last year. In Monday’s GOP report, Breuer is singled out for failing to make a connection between the dangerous gun-walking tactics being used in Fast and Furious with a previous operation called Wide Receiver, which began during the George W. Bush administration. The report contends that the Criminal Division chief should have asserted more oversight and asked more questions of his deputies and with ATF in Arizona. Breuer has publicly apologized for not making the connection.
“He directed the Criminal Division’s response to learning about gunwalking in Wide Receiver, and set the expectation that merely meeting with—and not supervising—ATF was sufficient,” the report states. “Breuer failed to take decisive action when he discovered gun-walking in Wide Receiver.”
The report also rapped Breuer for delegating review of wiretap applications to Criminal Division deputies, including Weinstein. The application review should have prompted officials to ask more questions about the tactics being employed in the operation, the report argues. The applications contained “copious detail of the reckless tactics,” the report states.
Grindler and Siskel did not take an active role in their oversight of ATF, the report contends, which allowed Fast and Furious to continue “unabated.” It also pinpoints a March 2010 briefing in which the report contends the officials were shown detailed information about Fast and Furious. However, Grindler and Siskel “failed to ask probing questions or take any significant follow-up action.”
The report also found that Siskel had no experience with ATF and made no effort to learn more about problems within the agency.
Grindler was told about the connection between Fast and Furious and the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry but did not follow up on how the gun-trafficking investigation was being conducted. Terry was killed during a shoot-out between Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits in December 2010. Two guns found at the shoot-out were later linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
The report also found that Wilkinson knew about the connection between Terry’s death and the operation. In addition, the report finds, Wilkinson showed a lack of concern or urgency.
“Wilkinson was uninterested in the initiatives and operations of individual Justice Department components—including those in his portfolio,” it states. “In fact, he believed it was not the role of anyone in the Office of the Attorney General to manage and supervise Department components. He read weekly memos containing details about Fast and Furious, but did nothing with this information.”
Wilkinson was also made aware of the connection between Terry’s murder and Fast and Furious.
Weinstein, who resigned on the same day the Inspector General released his report, was faulted for not asking more questions while reviewing the wiretap applications. The report faults Weinstein for failing to “connect the dots” between Operation Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious, given the information he was reviewing in the wiretap applications.
“Put bluntly, the Department of Justice rubber stamped the most important documents in Fast and Furious. These applications authorized federal agents to continue using the very reckless tactics that Attorney General Holder and many others have condemned in recent months,” the report says. “The senior Department officials legally obligated to sign the applications did not actually read the documents they were signing.”